Tips for Extending the Life of Your Not-So-New Car

Clunk! Clunk! Clunk! That was the sound I dreaded hearing most on the highway, and the moment I heard it, I scanned the road for an accident ahead. Then it dawned on me: The noise was coming from my car. It wasn’t the ideal time for my old car to give out—I was hours from home, heading to start my senior year of college, and had my entire life packed into a trailer behind me.

A quick stop on the side of the road revealed that my muffler was on the verge of falling off. Luckily, my car-savvy Dad—my co-pilot that day—wrangled a wire hanger to hold it in place for the rest of our drive.

Unfortunately, I don’t always have a mechanic onboard when I’m behind the wheel. So since graduating from college, I’ve made a serious effort to keep my 10-year-old sedan in top shape. After all, this baby’s got to get me through a few more road trips before I can afford an upgrade.

If you’re like me, taking good care of your used car doesn’t come naturally. But I’ve found a few simple tricks to help me stay safe and save money on unexpected repairs:

Show your engine some everyday love

A well-kept engine is vital to your vehicle’s health. Though what goes on under the hood may seem like a mystery, a little common sense can keep wear and tear on your engine to a minimum. Driving habits like accelerating slowly, maintaining a steady speed and avoiding high speeds will help keep it running smoothly.

Just like people, engines can be climate sensitive. Try not to leave your car running outside once temperatures dip below freezing, and remember that idling for more than a few minutes is bad for your engine, no matter what season it is.

Fill ‘er up the right way

Yes, gas prices do get high, but it can be important to shell out for quality gasoline. Make sure you follow manufacturer’s specifications about which type of gas to use—regular is not the poor man’s premium—and stick to gas stations with policies that ensure proper gas filtration. Also, avoid stopping in when a gas tanker is at the station. Those big trucks stir up sediment in underground reservoirs, which can gunk up the gas you’re about to use.

Keep it clean

Let’s be honest, getting your car washed can make even an old clunker feel like a brand new ride. It also helps protect your car from premature rusting, especially in the winter. But keeping the inside clean is just as important as a spotless exterior.

Take care to vacuum and wipe down your seats and floor mats on a regular basis. Residue from spilled sodas could be corroding your interior, and mud from the boots you wore to last week’s music fest aren’t doing it any favors, either.

In addition, make sure your window and door seals aren’t sleeping on the job. If these become loose, a rainy day could wreak havoc on your interior. There are inexpensive products you can use to repair these seals, but if you think it’s best to replace the old with the new, you should consult an auto professional.

With these few maintenance tricks, I hope to keep my well-worn car on the road for years to come. Who knows, I might even beat the record set by my aunt, who’s helped her ancient red car reach more than 200,000 miles.

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